As 2019 is winding down and we’re preparing for the Institute’s annual holiday break, a surprise arrived in the Institute Archives. A FedEx box was delivered containing a heavily wrapped parcel. An RPI yearbook perhaps? Or maybe an old photo album? It was neither. Rather, John, Jen and I opened the package to discover a student scrapbook dating from the 1910s.
According to the donor, the scrapbook was found while “straightening up some dusty corners of our community library.” Since there was no known local affiliation the volume was sent to Rensselaer – more than 100 years after its creation!
Our records hold precious little information about the book’s compiler, Samuel Stephenson Waters, RPI Class of 1917. The 1917 Transit sheds some light, including that prodigal son “Steve” Waters had returned from “a year’s vacation.” He had apparently been quite involved in student activities as president of his freshman class, a member of the Rensselaer Union Nominating Committee, and a player on his class football team. Perhaps his focus on non-academic endeavors explains the fact that Mr. Waters never graduated from Rensselaer!
The scrapbook itself lays bare Waters’s less than stellar academic record. Many of his grade cards are glued onto its pages, and while he passed all of his admissions tests, things went downhill from there. His grades cluster at the lower end of the scale of RPI’s grading system, including d (deficient), n (not examined), and the curious n.s.e. (not sufficiently examined).
In contrast to his math and science classwork, Waters did well in French and drawing courses in which he regularly earned a p (passing). However, those courses could not carry him through the rigorous civil engineering program in which he was enrolled.
The scrapbook also provides ample evidence of Waters’s activities outside of the classroom. There are concert programs, season passes to RPI athletic competitions, and never-before seen photographs of pushball & flag rushes, surveying expeditions, etc. As a military school graduate, Waters also interspersed the pages with clipped articles, poetry, and other materials related to military duty. Selective service cards indicate he registered in 1917 and appeared before the draft board in 1918. It’s unlikely he served in World War I, since a telegram indicates he commissioned as a captain on November 23, 1918. The armistice was signed twelve days earlier.
We’re grateful for this donation documenting a young man’s life at RPI. Among its many bits and pieces are a few small Christmas cards. I share this last minute gift with our readers in the hope that you enjoy a wonderful holiday season.